Jun 27, 2007

Ikhephu

Apha-a-a eMzantsi Africa (Here in Southern Africa)
Kwenza-ka-l’ isimangaliso (Some marvel wonder happened)
Kwaku-band’ isimangaliso (It was wonderfully cold)
Kwafa –a-a nempahl’ emfishane (Even the small creatures died)

Kwaf’ ibhokwe ngenx’ yalel’ ikhephu (The goats perished because of this snow)
Kum-hlo-phe qhwa, naphezu kwezindlu! (Its white on house tops)

Refrain
Ikhephu apha eMzansi Afrika (The snow in South Africa)
Kwakuband’ apha, eMzants’ Afrika (It was cold here in South Africa)
Ikhephu, ikhephu……..! (The snow, the snow!)
Li-ka 1963! (Of 1963)

This is a song that my beloved mother sung to us when we were young. She learnt this song when she attended school in one of the remote villages of north-western Matabeleland in Zimbabwe. It was a song of the 1963s sung to express one of the climatic wonders of the time-a snow fall. The snow fall did not occur in Matabeleland, not even in Zimbabwe but in South Africa. It must have been really cold that such was captured by school kids as further as a thousand kilometers away.
When I woke up today and saw of the snow fall on grasses, pavements, and plants, I remembered the song above. Since my stay in Johannesburg, I have never seen such a snow fall. I have been hearing of snow falls in such places as KwaZulu-Natal but not in Johannesburg before.
The meteorologists have stated that more is yet to come. In fact, we just entered the winter solstice last Wednesday hence we have to gear ourselves against more winter bit lest we get the bug. The trick is to keep warm, drink more water not more coffee! And sleep under warm blankets.
But why all this cold whether? Reason: Climatic change! Indeed, climatic change has become a thorn in the flesh of global leaders. The million-dollar question is how we can arrest it.

Jun 19, 2007

My First Day at Work

Yesterday (Monday) I found one paradox in human make up. For all this time I have been telling my prospective employers of all my capabilities, and have been able to express my suitability as an applied Social Science Researcher with unquestionable clarity and lucidity. Would you believe today that the first question that I asked my supervisor after she had described what I shall be doing as a Research Intern was “What is it that I shall be doing as a Researcher Nirvana?” My supervisor’s name is Nirvana by the way. I thought I was being silly at the first instance but I discovered the relevance of my question later.
I had not been clear about what I had precisely wanted to know but it dawned, as Nirvana replied me, that what I wanted to know was what my job will entail. Therein lies the power of questioning-getting to know what it is that you have to do.
Sometimes you get nervous when you have to ask in order to get some clarity on a particular issue. This is often true if the person you have to ask is one of seniority. Causes of that are multiple but I think chief among these is the feeling that asking questions will expose the stupidity in you, and the emptiness that fills your medulla oblongata, and thus bring to question your credentials as a newly recruited employee. Let me share with you some wisdom that I begot from my mother. She said:
“Look Mbuso, if you ask a question, you appear stupid for a very short time but become wise for the rest of your life.” The vice versa is true. I cannot go further lest I dilute such great wisdom.
I had gone for an interview at Health and Development Africa (HDA) on the 4th of June. It was not an interview as such but an informal chat with Dr Gill and Saul Johnson, both directors at the company. I got an offer of an internship from Dr. Gill through an e-mail last week on Thursday. Yesterday was my first day at work. What a day it was. I have hitherto alluded to contradictions in me. I must state one of these at this juncture. One must be familiar with the kind of feeling that one develops when one believes that his/her colleagues have left him/her in the race. Such was my feeling when almost all the 2007 WoW interns, save for me, were invited to interviews immediately at the end of the training programme. I knew Lesley and Jean could not neglect me but I must be honest to say that a thought of being abandoned was beginning to creep in my mind. Doubt was beginning to build itself into an imposing edifice. Every time I had to think of myself, I saw a deficit in me that needed to be attended to.
But here comes a call on Thursday the 13th of June from HDA inviting me to an interview. An hour later, I receive a call from Lesley informing me of the same interview.
Interestingly, Lesley had this to say: “Mbuso do not put on your white suit.” Our telephonic conversation was too short that I could not tell her that it would have been impossible to put on that white suit again because on the day I had put on it, I had borrowed it from a friend. He would have been less willing to lend it to me for the second time around! Besides, he has since relocated to Cape Town!
The last thing Lesley said was: “Mbuso, do not put on your spectacles because one can hardly see your eyes when you are putting on them.” Surely, I could not resist such strategic advice.

So, yesterday was my first day at work. I arrived at 8.00am and found two of the company directors already in. There are three directors at HDA. The working environment is fabulous and the patrons very interesting. At 08.30, we went for a meeting during which I was introduced to the rest of HDA staff, and where I had the chance to introduce myself to them all. At 10.00am I had a project meeting with my supervisor and three other colleagues. We are working on a project on the provision of psychosocial support to HIV/AIDS orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in Eastern Cape Province’s four districts of Lady Freire, Lusikisiki, Dutywa, and Port Elizabeth. My job is to research on background material for the programme. The programme runs for a year beginning from now up to next year around this time. The meeting lasted from 10-2 pm after which I was so exhausted and hungry. I could not, however, eat because I had a stomach disorder that had kept producing funny sounds even during the two meetings. Thanks to caring HDA patrons who turned these horrible sounds into a joke: “Mbuso’s stomach gymnastics!”

I spent the rest of the day at my office that I share with a lovely lady called Nicky. The whole day was an interesting one. I had to smile and smile, nod and nod, yes and yes, okay and okay until I was okayed! I had to laugh and pretend that I was laughing. I had to maintain a professional posture, things that are hard to do especially when you engage into a conscious effort to do them. I did not have my own laptop but it will be availed on Wednesday. The human journey has reached its zenith. Do I have the steam to keep going?

Alas, I had to sympathize with the company patrons. When we arrived in the morning we found that company offices had been broken into. Only a projector was stolen. It appears this happened over the weekend. This is the second time, I am told, the company offices have been broken into. The last time there was a burglary, a whole lot of computers were stolen. This time around, only a projector was snatched! Dr. Saul Johnson, one of the HDA directors, said of the latest break-in: “This is an indication of the fact that HDA is growing from strength to strength!” It appears the thieves used the basement door of the building and hawksawed themselves into one of HDA offices where there was the projector. It looks like they triggered the alarm system in the process which led them to leave before they rampaged and looted the offices of my beloved company.
The talk of burglary, the Stallion bosses, the Stallion Security Company was contracted to man the building; and concerns on security of company property, punctuated the conversations of the day. I pray that the commercial guardian angel shall protect our priced company. Long live HDA.
What a day of fun, activity, and surprises.

The Human Journey

When I came forth into this world from my mother’s womb, I began a journey along a path so abstract to define but well-trodden to be missed. This is the path that I still tread today. A path traveled by all those of the human family whose limbs and torsos still have the energy to carry them around. This is the path prescribed by the Father of Life in Whose bosom we exist and by whose instruction we do and accomplish projects.
I, like a candle whose string needs to be burnt in order that its glow may illuminate the dark corners of the house, have been consuming myself to extinction. The candle burns itself out. It is an eventuality that one who wants to light his/her house must burn the candle. This is inescapable. In the same way, one who needs to accomplish works that impact on other people's lives in a positive way must sacrifice him/herself to the vicissicitudes of time. Existence eats one away.
Thus, as I exist, I am set toward that dreaded place of the silent and the dead. I am happy that I am now at the prime of my existence-WORKING AT HDA!

May 20, 2007

The Party

I arrive at half-past-five at the Graduate School Offices. I am carrying my usual book-case. I am dressed in a white shirt and a black trouser. I am putting on my usual spectacles that add an academic posture. Not many of my colleagues have arrived. I see Bruce, Dr. Minors, and Roy. Roy is carrying assessment forms. He wants to find the blogger-of-the-year. I and Bruce begin to fill the grid with which Roy seeks to select the best one or two bloggers of the year. It was one of the grids that he used during the internship training course. I have forgotten how it works. He takes his time to remind us. The top five bloggers are Temitope, Susan Arthur, Ijeoma, Adam, and Maxwell.

The place begins to breathe life. People are beginning to tickle in. I can see Wanjiku and her friend. Two of my friends arrive. Oh I get a call from my friend who comes from Sandton. As I rush to meet her at the Origins Centre, I meet Jean by the Graduate School entrance. I greet her. I tell her that I am going to fetch one of my friends by the car park. She urges me to rush because the party is about to start! My friend has not yet arrived at the car park. When I am about to leave the park, she phones me that she is about to arrive. She tells me that she can find the Wits Seminar Room (the venue for the party) by herself. I am relieved!
My friend arrives from Sandton. She works for the African Leadership Academy. She brought a gift for me. I am so happy.
All the internship graduands have arrived save for Susan Wangi. The place is now alive. The party has begun!
Chairs have been arranged for the guests, the internship patrons, and the internship graduates. The atmosphere is ballistic. Joy is throbbing in the air. The party has begun.

Dr. Susan van Zyl officially opens the party by making a speech of a profound sort. She relates to the importance of internship and outlines why the World of Work Internship Programme at Wits is one of its kind. She introduces Jean, Roy, Lesley, Wanjiku, and Elspeth. Roy captures attention by his gyrating hands. He is such interesting today!
She turns to us and says-“This has been the most interesting group of interns I have ever met in this programme. I am proud of them.” I say to my heart-“We are also proud of you Sue.”
As she finishes introducing the guest speaker, Professor Lovemore Mbigi, she gets a standing ovation.
Mbigi was one of the keynote speakers during the internship training course. He begins by saying: “Many people are prisoners of disciplines.” As he repeats this, people are already shaken to the edges of their seats. Mbigi bursts in a metallic laughter. “Yes, he continues, “I have two degrees in business economics but… I do not know what to do with them.” He says “Thank you” at the end of his speech. Mbigi. What an interesting Professor.

Now is the time to announce the intern of the year. Lesley takes the stage. She begins by outlining the criteria that was used for selecting the top intern. “The top intern of the year is Ijeoma Uche-Okeke” , Lesley announces. Well done Ijeoma!

Now is the time to announce the-blogger-of-the-year. Here comes Roy. He climbs atop the tables, greets everyone and makes an explanation as to what blogging is all about. He begins peeling down papers of the envelop in a dramatic way. “The two bloggers of the year are Susan Aurthur and Ijeoma!”, he announces. Well done Ijeoma and Susan!
Certificates are handed to all of us. Jean and Lesley also bought us small bags! Thank you so much Jean and Lesley. We are proud of you.

As the party matures, dancing and eating begins. Cameras flash in all directions. Partying has begun. I am dancing with two of my friends and suddenly one of my classmates joins us. I leave them to join Temi, and company. They are being led by Adam in a very interesting dance. You turn your head to the right, to the left and then stretch your neck. You turn your head to the left, to the right and then stretch your neck! “Left-right and stretch”, says Adam. You repeat the same thing until you sweat! Adam is a good dancer.

As the lights turn off, I have sweated, I am tired and happy.
This has been the most enthralling conclusion to the World of Work Internship Programme. But the journey begins. Am I going to get an internship? This question creates a lot of anxiety for me. I am positive that I will get one because I have done the best for myself. I am in the safe hands of Lesley and Jean; I am part of a dynamic group of my colleagues in the internship programme, and I have branded myself in the most strategic way.
This world is good because it never lets down those who work hard. I am one of those who are prepared to expend the last kilo joule to attain the good.

May 9, 2007

Time management

Who has ever seen people hurrying clumsily to the point of bumping on every one on the way? Who has ever seen a company boss rushing out of his car clutching a briefcase on one hand, and a jacket on the other? Who has ever seen a university student sweating on the edge of the chair trying to calm down because s/he has to start writing the examination for which s/he is late? I have seen all such people at the worst scenarios of their existence, that is, having run out of time!!
Time is a precious commodity. I used to think that time is a finite resource because it is not manufactured anywhere; nobody can ever exhaust hours, days or months because they naturally reproduce themselves! But we always race after time. Why? Time is a "finite-infinite" resource.
Time management has become a buzzword in modern existence. People have to manage their time in order to get things done. If you do not manage time properly you will always find yourself racing in a competition that you will never win! In the modern world, a human being has to perform a multiplicity of tasks within a limited time-frame of his existence. The secret to achieving one’s aspirations begins with managing one’s time. Time is money, as a popular cliché goes.
The concept of managing time has become salient in business life in which company patrons have to make strategies, and implement them within a short space of time in order to retain their competitive edge.

May 4, 2007

The key to transition

A transition from the classroom to the work place is difficult. Most people often think of this transition in terms of getting a job. During his presentation on the ways to achieve prosperity in life, Professor Lovemore Mbigi argued that this is a flawed conception of change. “Don’t look for a job, look for a problem to solve, the bigger your problem, the bigger is the reward. The companies have already an answer to you as a job-searcher-No!” For many of us, this was unnerving. We all look forward to being employed so as to gain experience, to learn how things are done beyond the classroom, and to improve our wellbeing. However, we had not viewed the job-search process in the perspective that Mbigi has suggested. I think there is some validity in what he is saying. Mbigi suggests that there are very few companies that are willing to employ people who have not defined what they will solve. Thus, if in any case one is invited to an interview, the whole issue is an attempt, by whoever has invited you, to find reasons not to hire you! It is your obligation to prove that you are worth the very job for which you have applied during that interview. This is a powerful revelation, I think.

Going back to Mbigi’s concept of identifying a problem to solve, you need to make a compelling sales proposition around your solution. The next step is to develop this solution into a product or production. Otherwise, Mbigi suggests, it is not enough to have a solution. The question is how you create a problem for which you will have a solution or solutions? And how you communicate your solution to the problem of your own creation! This sounds tricky.

You will realise that this world is replete with problems-economic, social and political problems. So the issue is not for you to create more of these but to identify them and suggest ways of dealing with them. One of the problems faced by South Africa is the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I have suggested in one of my blog-posts that there is need to deal with stigma as one of the national interventions against the disease. This is one of my “solutions” to this problem. I am proposing this through my profile in my blogspot. In this blogspot, I have turned myself into a product because it is where I have expressed my selling points, that is, my ability to think out of the box, my ability to lead and work in a team, my research and writing skills, and my ability to formulate policies towards employment creation and poverty reduction in South Africa.

Apr 27, 2007

Dealing with HIV/AIDS-related stigma

Stigma and metaphors built around HIV/AIDS have drawn academic and public interest. Particularly interesting is that the severity of the AIDS pandemic has transformed our lives profoundly, and that stigma experienced by persons living with the disease has grave consequences for public health efforts. Stigma constitutes prejudice, discrimination, categorisation, differentiation, and stereotyping. The phobia and metaphorical references attached to HIV/AIDS marshal fear, isolation and shame. Powerful metaphors have been mobilised around HIV/AIDS to reinforce stigmatisation. The word plague, for example,(derived from the Latin form plaga for collective calamity) is the principal metaphor by which the epidemic has come to be known in modern society. This conception of the disease contributes to the resonance of the inexorability and inescapability of HIV-infection. It also produces laxity on individual protection. Such thinking has been fostered by some religious leaders who have come to see the presence of HIV/AIDS as a fulfilment of apocalyptic prophecy. A sign for the end of time and a general punishment for immorality! The conception of suffering from HIV/AIDS as a consequence of immorality leads to the view of the epidemic as a disease of others and thus leads to the rejection and discrimination of those suffering from it. Getting the HI-virus is regarded as a wilful act that deserves punishment.

Another conjecture that has often come with HIV-related stigma is the popular discourse which equates testing HIV-positive to having AIDS yet testing positive points to the presence not of the HI-virus per se but of the antibodies to the virus. Nonetheless, this perception is so strong that once a person is diagnosed HIV-positive, people often see the person as “already dead!” While death may be inevitable for a person living with HIV/AIDS, it is often quickened by the landscape of “social terror” that produces anxiety and stress for sufferers. Metaphors kill because they make people to be irrationally fearful of even effective measures and foster credence in virtually useless remedies such as sleeping with virgins as a cure for HIV/AIDS as some reports say in South Africa. In light of the above, I want to argue that the mystifications and metaphoric trappings that have been built around HIV/AIDS have produced a profound impact on social and moral responses to the epidemic. It is, therefore, important for public health practitioners to deal with stigma because it is one of the greatest barriers to HIV/AIDS disclosure.